4 Ways to Lead When the Way Ahead Is Unclear

Consider these four ways to inspire confidence in your leadership while also acknowledging that you don’t know how to fix the problem — yet:

1. Claim what is known about the situation.
Don’t make the mistake of waiting to communicate until the situation grows clearer. You may not have a clear problem definition or a known solution, but you can acknowledge the symptoms and the impact that the problem is having on people. Acknowledging that a problem exists and telling people what you do know reassures people that you are leading.

2. Express deep interest and care.
Sometimes, leaders try to look non-anxious but end up appearing uncaring or indifferent — as if whatever happens next is just fine. The leader must convey a deep investment in both the people and the problem. People respect the leader who says, “I really don’t know the answer, but I’m willing to stand here with you in the anxiety of our mutual not-knowing.”

3. Be clear about what you won’t do.
You may not know what should happen next, but you probably know what is “off the table.” What won’t be considered? Those things that are inconsistent with the identity or values of the organization.

4. Ask good questions.
Good questions will inspire confidence in your leadership. In Engaging Emergence, author and consultant Peggy Holman frames numerous possibility-oriented questions that can help an organization clarify what is emerging out of a leadership challenge. Here are some of the most poignant:
   ▪     What do we wish to conserve?
   ▪     What do we want more of?
   ▪     What keeps us going?
   ▪     What guides us when we don’t know?
   ▪     What question, if asked and answered, would make a difference in this situation?
   ▪     What can we do together what none of us could do alone?
   ▪     Given what has happened, what is possible next?

Saying “I don’t know” is not a sign of weakness in a leader. It is an honest acknowledgment that more learning is required before action can be taken. Your leadership can inspire confidence while also creating space for not knowing. The next time you face an uncertain course of action, consider admitting “I don’t know” — but do it with confidence.

Source: Lewis Center

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Henry Tippie

Henry Tippie